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Contrasting trends in hydrologic extremes for two sub-arctic catchments in northern Sweden − does glacier melt matter?

Author(s): H. E. Dahlke | S. W. Lyon | J. R. Stedinger | G. Rosqvist | P. Jansson

Journal: Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
ISSN 1812-2108

Volume: 9;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1041;
Date: 2012;
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It is not clear how climatic change will influence glacial meltwater rates and terrestrial hydrology in the Sub-Arctic and Arctic. This uncertainty is particularly acute for hydrologic extremes (flood events) because understanding the frequency of such unusual events requires long records of observation not often available for the Arctic and Sub-Arctic. This study presents a statistical analysis of trends in the magnitude and timing of hydrologic extremes (flood events) and the mean summer discharge in two sub-arctic catchments, Tarfalajokk and Abiskojokk, in northern Sweden. The catchments have different glacier covers (30% and 1%, respectively). Statistically significant trends (at the 5% level) were identified for both catchments on an annual and on a seasonal scale (3-months averages) using the Mann-Kendall trend test. Stationarity of flood records was tested by analyzing trends in the flood quantiles, using generalized least squares regression. Hydrologic trends were related to observed changes in the precipitation and air temperature, and were correlated with 3-months averaged climate pattern indices (e.g. North Atlantic Oscillation). Both catchments showed a statistically significant increase in the annual mean air temperature over the comparison time period of 1985–2009 (Tarfalajokk and Abiskojokk p < 0.01), but lacked significant trends in the total precipitation (Tarfalajokk p = 0.91, Abiskojokk p = 0.44). Despite the similar climate evolution over the studied time period in the two catchments, data showed contrasting trends in the magnitude and timing of flood peaks and the mean summer discharge. Hydrologic trends indicated an amplification of the hydrologic response in the highly glaciated catchment and a dampening of the response in the nonglaciated catchment. The glaciated mountain catchment showed a statistically significant increasing trend in the flood magnitudes (p = 0.04) that is clearly correlated to the occurrence of extreme precipitation events. It also showed a significant increase in mean summer discharge (p = 0.0002), which is significantly correlated to the decrease in glacier mass balance and the increase in air temperature (p = 0.08). Conversely, the nonglaciated catchment showed a significant decrease in the mean summer discharge (p = 0.01), the flood magnitudes (p = 0.07) and an insignificant trend towards earlier flood occurrences (p = 0.53). These trends are explained by a reduction of the winter snow pack due to higher temperatures in the winter and spring and an increasing soil water storage capacity or catchment storage due to progressively thawing permafrost.
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